When you think of timeless songwriting, Cheech and Chong may not immediately come to mind. The cannabis-craving duo’s stoner send-ups of hippie culture may be classics, but they’re not heartfelt ones. And yet in the 1960s, you were likely to see the pair at The Troubadour, a vital apex of the era’s singer-songwriter movement. The West Hollywood venue was a hangout for James Taylor, Carol King, and Jackson Brown and others, helping to build a scene and launch the careers of figures ranging from Elton John to Steve Martin.
As a film, Troubadours documents the growth of the movement and focuses extensively on the lives of King and Taylor. It’s a well-edited production that notes how the stripped-down aesthetic that flourished from 1968 to 1975 was born of a desire for authenticity. In contrast to the older formula, in which behind-the-scenes songwriters crafted chart-toppers for other performers, according to King’s own account, this was a time when audiences craved the intimacy and sincerity of an all-original solo performance.
While it doesn’t show the easy-listening hits to be nearly as counter-cultural as the decade of rock that came before them or the punk revolution that would soon follow, the film does recontextualize the standard-penning artists as earnestly individual and part of a broader movement. It’s not profoundly revelatory, but Troubadours contains a wealth of music and interview footage that’s put together very smoothly. If you think James Taylor’s music is a snooze-fest, the movie probably won’t change your mind, but as a look at ground zero for many now-legendary artists, it does provide insight into the mindset and cultural surroundings of singer-songwriters whose music still permeates the airwaves.
Troubadours opens at West End Cinema tonight.